May 6, 2024

How To Build Floating Shelves That Are Beautiful & Sturdy

Have you ever wanted to learn how to build floating shelves? If the answer is yes, welcome to Perkins On Parkway, where we make DIY projects attainable and doable. I have built three versions of these shelves over the years, so it’s time I break it down step by step so you can replicate these in your own space. 

How to Build Floating Shelves

During my recent guest bathroom refresh, I got the walls painted, changed a few accents, and still felt something was missing. It didn’t take me long to realize that floating shelves were needed to complete the space! Shelves are practical for storage but can also add an extra oomph to any room. 

There are two components to a floating shelf:

1. The bracket system for the interior that supports the shelf and

2. The visible exterior of the shelf. Here is a full list of supplies you’ll need to get the job done:

Supply List

Note: You may need to make adjustments based on how many shelves you are constructing and how big they are; this supply list is specific to the measurements in my bathroom.

STEP ONE: Measure your space and align on dimensions for your project

The first step will be to measure the area you are planning on putting shelves up. I already have a little niche above the toilet where I’m putting mine, so I measured wall to wall which was 39.5”. This is when you’ll decide on how deep you want your shelves as well. I decided on 11”, so my finished shelf dimension will be 39.5” wide x 11” deep x 2.5” high. If you are not building the shelf in a nook area you will need to account for additional trim wood to cover the sides of your shelves.

STEP TWO: Cut down the wood to your desired dimensions

Diagram of brackets and shelves before being assembled

For the bracket, we are essentially going to build what I like to call “a wood sandwich”. To do this, we need all the different pieces of wood to fit together! 

First, I cut the plywood with a table saw or jigsaw. I cut 4 pieces of plywood to be 39.5”x11” and they will be the top and bottom of each shelf.

Next, I cut the trim piece to 39.5” x 2.5”. This will be the front portion of the shelf that encloses the bracket. I chose pine wood for this because it is affordable and stylistically matches the color of my home. This will be the front of the shelf so I wanted it to look as nice as possible! You might want to consider poplar or oak for your project because the hardness of those woods makes them more durable. 

Lastly, I am going to cut the 1x2s down for the interior frame to fit the exact dimensions of the plywood. For one bracket I used 2 1x2s cut to 39.5 and 4 1x2s cut to 9.5 inches each. 

Close-up of the floating shelves with dimensions labeled on each part of the shelf

At this point, before gluing or screwing anything together, I recommend dry fitting the wood and the board against your wall…walls are often not perfectly straight and you might need to adjust the cuts accordingly.

A picture of the bottom of the floating shelf before it's mounted on the wall
Pieces of wood being cut for the floating shelf

Once everything is cut and you know everything fits together, it’s time to prepare the exterior parts of the shelf.

STEP THREE: Prepare the wood

I sanded the 4 pieces of plywood (39.5” x 11”) we cut as well as the 2 pieces of 1×3 trim (39.5” x 2.5”) to be attached to the front of the shelf. For this, I used an electric sander. I started sanding with 120-grit sandpaper and slowly increased it to 220-grit over several rounds of sanding. When sanding you want to start with the lower number and move up. The higher the number, the smoother the finish.

Pinewood might feel smooth already, but I like to sand these to help remove some of the yellow from the board and help prep it for stain.

STEP FOUR: Build the interior frame

Once everything is cut, sanded, and you know everything fits together, it’s time to start assembling your brackets. I grabbed my 1x2s and used my Kreg Jig to create holes. I set the Kreg Jig pocket tool to the ¾” length and created a pocket hole on one side of the 1×2 board that we cut down to 9.5 inches. Then, I used those holes and wood glue to attach the arm of the bracket to the backboard – the 1×2 that we cut down to 39.5 inches. Here is how it’s done:

Once the wood is drilled, I start adding wood glue between the joint, clamp it together, then screw the 1¼ inch Kreg jig screw in the pocket hole. Repeat this for all of the arms of the bracket.

A woman uses a Kreg jig screw in a pocket hole on one of the shelves

Once your bracket is completed, it’s time to install it on the wall!

STEP SEVEN: Install the shelf framing on the wall (directly into studs)

Once you’ve decided where you want to install your shelves, it’s time to ensure they’re perfectly level. I ended up using 2 levels, 1 to ensure the back of the bracket is straight and a smaller one for the middle piece, perpendicularly from the back.

A woman drills the shelf framing into the wall while using a level to make sure it's straight

Using 3” wood screws, you should drill through the bracket, directly into studs (if you don’t know EXACTLY where your studs are, I highly recommend using a stud finder). Then, I added brad nails on either side of the screws to secure it into the wall.

Once you install your bracket, it’s time to add the front! I did this by using wood glue on all 3 of the exposed pieces of wood. Then I clamped them together and added brad nails.

A woman installs the front of the shelving by gluing and nailing the front pieces to the frame

Here is a finished bracket!

A photo of the finished bracket mounted to the wall

STEP EIGHT: Prepare the shelf pieces

In this household, we use Simply White Stain by Minwax, but any stain color will work great!

First, I use a tack cloth to remove any dust or dirt from the wood. You should always dust off your wood before you stain or paint! It ensures a clean starting surface.

Once your wood is dirt and dust-free, I apply stain with a rag. If you also prefer to apply stain with a rag, remember to always let your rag dry completely before you throw it in the garbage can.

When your wood is stained and dried, it’s time to apply several coats of Matte Polycrylic. Don’t shake the can, simply open it and stir well with a stir stick. This will help avoid getting air bubbles. I would suggest applying one coat, then sand, and ending with applying two more coats to prepare for installation. After the last coat is completely dry, do one last thorough sand with 220 grit paper. Finish it off by grabbing a tack cloth and wipe clean. Your wood is officially prepped and ready for you to attach it to the bracket!

STEP NINE: Installation

Grab your plywood and trim pieces and bring them to your installed brackets. Pick your favorite piece of plywood to be the top of your shelf and place it on top of the bracket, flush against the wall (I used a rubber mallet and a piece of scrap wood to lightly tap it into place so it was snug and secure). 

Next, I attach the bottom piece of plywood to the bottom of the bracket. I placed painter’s tape on the wood where I plan to shoot a brad nail, this will help with the wood-filling process! Once I attached the bottom, I used wood glue along the front trim piece and attached it. I then repeated the tape and brad nail process to the front of the shelf.

A woman installs the rest of the floating shelf using a brad nailer

Lastly, it’s time to apply wood fill the holes! I have found that mixing Natural and White wood fill matches Simply White stain perfectly. With my fingers, I pressed the mixture onto the tape where the hole was and let it dry completely. From there, you can just rip the tape off and run a micro-sander over the spot and it’s like a nail hole was never there. You can also sand over the tape if you’d like.

End Result

A woman applies wood filler to the holes

It is a labor of love, but I could not be happier with the results!

The final result shows two white floating shelves mounted on a sage green wall

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have. Happy DIY-ing!

Are you a visual learner? Check out this YouTube tutorial on how to build these beautiful shelves!

Thank you so much for following along with my bathroom series! I am so proud of how this turned out and am thankful you are on this journey with me! Want to see more? Stay tuned on How To Get Crsipsy Paint Lines with Caulk, How To Get Cripsy Paint Lines with Paint, and The Bathroom Series: Start to Finish!

Note: If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission or have a sponsored relationship with the brand, at no cost to you. We recommend only products we genuinely like. Thank you so much.

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